When we think about black metal, there's a certain expectation we associate with it; a feeling of icy bleakness that grips the listener by the spine and throws them into a pit of existential despair. Metal, however, is not a genre concerned with simply meeting expectations; it wants to destroy and subvert them. On Sunbather, their sophomore album, San Francisco's Deafheaven do just that. Imbuing their sound with elements of shoegaze and post-rock, the band create a stunning sonic shift from suffocating darkness to enveloping light. Made up of four sprawling tracks strung together by ambient interstitials, the album drifts between moments of manic catharsis and contemplative calm, allowing the listener a moment of respite in its expansive soundscapes before releasing another intense deluge of rhapsodic emotion (and blastbeats). Amazingly, Deafheaven manage to make an album that feels completely different, tonally speaking, from any other death metal record, while still tackling the same subject. The album explores themes of death, regret, doubt, loss, and fear, but it does so through poetic exploration rather than profane confrontation. This lighter touch gives the listener time to really internalize and reflect upon the lyrics rather than react viscerally, making for an altogether deeper experience for those willing to take the time to really take the album in. Many bands go through their entire career without making an album as well crafted, fully realized, and downright gorgeous as Sunbather, and somehow, Deafheaven have managed to nail it on their second outing, with an album that seems to get bigger and more affective with each listen.
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AllMusic Review by Gregory Heaney